tv NBC Nightly News NBC March 21, 2011 5:30pm-6:00pm PDT
on our broadcast tonight, the twin crises around the globe. in libya, an aerial barrage launched by the u.s. and other countries. president obama again making the case for why the u.s. went in, but how does it end? in japan, the disaster deepens with new problems at the nuclear plant. there are new fears about food safety and an american family has received the worst possible news about their daughter. our teams are on the ground. "nightly news" begins now. captions paid for by nbc-universal television good evening.
in addition to two wars on two other fronts, the united states military tonight is engaged against libya. the attacks are in the form of air strikes. 32 of them in just the last 24 hours. about half now being carried out by u.s. aircraft. and there have been 136 cruise missiles launched. only eight of them by british armed forces. the rest launched by the u.s. they have hit targets up and down the libyan coastline, mostly aimed at libyan defenses, so the coalition aircraft can begin enforcing that no-fly zone over a larger portion of the country. the united states says moammar gadhafi is not a target personally, but president obama says the u.s. acted in these attacks he launched from south america to stop gadhafi from firing on his own people. we have this all covered tonight with our correspondents throughout the region. we want to begin at the pentagon with our pentagon correspondent, jim miklaszewski. jim, good evening. >> reporter: good evening,
brian. u.s. warplanes and coalition aircraft are in the air again tonight over libya, on the prowl for targets of opportunity. libyan anti-aircraft fire lit up the skies over tripoli tonight. another futile attempt to defend against overwhelming american attacks. a dozen more cruise missiles pounded libyan military targets as u.s. marine harrier jets destroyed a convoy of armored vehicles south of benghazi. in chile today, president obama said the coalition assault was absolutely necessary to prevent the massacre of defenseless libyans by moammar gadhafi. >> a leader who has lost his legitimacy decides to turn his military on his own people. we can't simply stand by with empty words. >> reporter: in two days of intensive bombing, u.s. and coalition forces have wiped out most of libya's air defenses and
safely established a no-fly zone. but american warplanes also turned their guns on libyan ground forces, destroying tanks and armored vehicles, leaving the troops demoralized and in retreat. >> we know that regime ground forces that were in the vicinity of benghazi now possess little will or capability to resume offensive operations. >> reporter: overnight, a british cruise missile hit gadhafi's own compound in tripoli, destroying a military command and control center. u.s. officials insist the air strike did not target gadhafi. he was apparently not in the compound at the time. in fact taking out gadhafi is not even part of the u.s. battle plan. >> i have no mission to attack that person and we are not doing so. >> reporter: u.s. officials fear, however, if gadhafi's own military doesn't take him out, he could very well survive, creating a stalemate with anti-gadhafi forces and a potential nightmare scenario that could destabilize the entire region.
>> now we enter the serious phase, how do we find an end result that's satisfactory and doesn't result in a fragmented libya and a breeding ground for terrorism. >> reporter: while the u.s. has had the lead in these air strikes, president obama said today the coalition would take over the mission within days. the president also said that arab league nations who had pushed for this no-fly zone have agreed to play a direct role in the operation, but so far only one, qatar, has even signed up, brian. >> jim miklaszewski starting us off from the pentagon tonight. jim, thanks. we want to now go inside libya. we have two reports from there tonight, beginning with nbc's jim maceda in tripoli. jim, two things. number one, is there a perception there that the u.s. is being too cute and is targeting gadhafi and any sense that the crowd could be at a
tipping point stage where loyalties could shift very quickly? >> reporter: brian, you know, u.s. officials may say that gadhafi is not a target, but he certainly sees himself as one. he hasn't appeared in public since the no-fly zone resolution was passed on thursday, and then the doors of his palace in tripoli were opened to hundreds, perhaps a thousand supporters who had come as human shields to protect him. that's one of his favorite tactics, as we all know when he's under military attack. he does seem less worried about a threat from inside, though. his whole inner circle is made up of family and tribal members who have sworn their loyalty to him. and there's the oil, billions and billions of petro dollars a year can buy you a lot of protection, brian, and it helped him survive that u.s. bombing in 1986 and a handful of coup attempts since. this time may be no different at all. >> jim maceda from inside tripoli tonight. jim, thanks. further to the east we want
to go now to our chief foreign correspondent, richard engel, in libyan rebel territory in tobruk. richard, good evening. >> reporter: good evening, brian. there is certainly a feeling of relief and gratitude among the people of eastern libya, but also the rebels. but now there is also a dependency. these rebels from what we were able to see today are now completely dependent on outside military help. rebels today celebrated a victory that wasn't theirs, but which may have saved their lives. rebels say these government armored vehicles and artillery were heading into benghazi when they were attacked by western air strikes. if this much fire power had reached the poorly defended city, gadhafi would almost certainly have retaken benghazi. >> these things, okay, attacked benghazi people. they destroy completely. >> reporter: with renewed confidence, now the rebels are on the offensive again.
on a highway outside tobruk, we saw rebels heading to the front line. they kissed their flag, and showed us weapons they have seized from gadhafi's smashed army units, including ammunition and rocket launchers. we've decided we will either die or live in dignity, he said. there's a lot of bravado here. the rebels fired guns in the air, but they don't even know who their commanders are, and barely know how to load their weapons. minutes later, rebels drove off to the front, flashing victory signs. but this is what is still happening when they reach it. rebels quickly wounded and killed. their strategy seems to be let western military power carry them to tripoli. there are two groups of rebels, brian. there are the volunteers, the people without any military experience, and they seem to be heading to the front lines with very limited success.
and then there are the units from gadhafi's army that defected. today in tobruk we tried to find the commander of one of those defected units. he had taken the day off. it's not an encouraging sign, brian. >> richard, some of these weapons i've seen the rebels using date back easily to world war ii. they're putting it together kind of haphazardly. even despite the great assistance they're getting from the air, you're saying it will take weapons assistance and leadership at minimum to then unify and get moving? >> reporter: it seems that it will be very difficult without more military help, more air strikes for these rebels to even take back the territory that they had before gadhafi launched his counteroffensive which almost retook the city of benghazi and tobruk where i am now. they need a lot more help, brian. >> richard engel who is to the east of tripoli tonight in rebel-held regions of libya. richard, thanks.
like it or not, this operation is fraught with global and domestic politics. while this air assault was planned days and weeks in advance, the president launched this military effort while on foreign soil in south america. our chief white house correspondent, chuck todd, is traveling with him in chile. our chief foreign affairs correspondent, andrea mitchell, covering in washington. andrea, we'll start with you. i have to assume the big issues here where your bailiwick is concerned is end game. how does this end and who or what takes over at that point, if they have thought it through that far? >> reporter: exactly. those are the questions that senior senators in both parties are raising tonight, brian. what is the diplomatic mission behind this military action. the administration says it's not targeting gadhafi, but the president has said gadhafi should go. if he doesn't go, won't the u.s. appear weak? they also say that in a tribal culture like libya, the administration does not know
enough about the libyan opposition. are they opening the door for al qaeda or other terror groups to take hold there. they are also questioning the fact that the arab support seems to be wavering and asking if the u.s. is protecting civilians in libya, why isn't it also protecting civilians in yemen or bahrain. also today we should point out defense secretary robert gates arrived in russia and vladimir putin took that moment to slam the military strikes in libya, saying it was like a medieval crusade. those are fighting words clearly intended to incite the entire arab world. that was enough to draw a rebuke from russia's president, medvedev, but it does overshadow the trip. >> chuck todd, who's traveling with the traveling white house in south america, chuck, given the fact that the machinery of the presidency can now move with the executive in a way it never did decades ago, is the criticism the president is getting from the other side, does it have to do with where he is physically or the aspects of this attack and how it was carried out?
>> reporter: well, brian, it has to do with the fact that they were caught a little bit off guard by how much criticism they're getting from members of congress. part of this is geographical. it would be a lot easier if the president were sitting in the oval office and a republican senator, like richard lugar, has a bunch of questions, he physically brings them in. yes, they were able to let them know on the friday before the president left what they were going to do but there wasn't real consultation. that's one aspect. there's some senior aides that admit it would be a lot easier if they were in washington and they could answer some of these questions before these senators went out there and started criticizing publicly. but there's another aspect here, brian. it's called war fatigue. afghanistan, that war is very unpopular, and the senators and members of congress are very sensitive to what are souring poll numbers. so the whole aspect of another war, another military operation in libya politically is tough for these guys to take. >> not to mention the americans still on the ground in iraq
tonight. chuck todd in south america, andrea mitchell in washington, thanks to you both. there is some good news to report tonight. about four "new york times" journalists who were captured and held for six days by pro-gadhafi forces while covering this conflict in libya, all four have been released with the help of the turkish ambassador to libya. there he is in the center of this photo. he negotiated their release and helped them make their safe crossing to tunisia. the u.s. army tonight has apologized after photos army officials called repugnant appeared in a german magazine. the photos show american soldiers in afghanistan smiling over the dead bodies of afghans. at least one of the soldiers in the der spiegel photos is facing court-martial on charges of premeditated murder of afghan civilians. the photos drew immediate comparisons to the abhorrent torture pictures of abu ghraib prison in iraq. the army said today the new
photos depict actions repugnant to us as human beings and contrary to the standards and values of the u.s. army, end of quote. when we come back here tonight, we'll go to japan, still dealing with twin disasters, and now a food scare along with it. and later, the end of the journey for a young american, who went to japan to teach english.
back now, returning to our non-stop coverage of this ongoing disaster in japan, which again is playing out along two basic prongs, both of them awful. a towering humanitarian disaster, and a continuing nuclear disaster now spreading to the area of food safety. we have both covered tonight. we have two reports, beginning with chief science correspondent, robert bazell, in tokyo. bob. >> reporter: brian, in another setback in the efforts to contain the crippled reactors, engineers have discovered that some of the pumps are damaged
beyond repair. they won't be able to restart them any time soon. smoke coming first from reactor 3 and later number 2 forced some workers to evacuate. despite those setbacks, officials with the u.s. nuclear regulatory commission emphasize sea water is now reaching all of the troubled reactors and attempts to restore power continue. >> i would say optimistically things appear to be on the verge of stabilizing. >> reporter: however, in the food markets across japan, mounting fears the situation is not stabilizing fast enough. traces of radiation led government officials to halt shipments of milk from fukushima prefecture and leafy vegetables from fukushima and four other regions, some as far as 160 miles from the plant. officials say the radiation levels are not currently high enough to pose a serious health threat. still, japanese anti-nuclear activists warn of potential dangers. >> when there is contamination in the soil, that gets into the
food chain and it's there for a long time. >> reporter: but the longer those reactors continue to leak radiation, the more complicated it is to contain the effects. robert bazell, nbc news, tokyo. >> reporter: this ian williams in otsuchi, japan, where it's hard to imagine this was once a bustling fishing community of 14,000 people. officials say a third are dead or missing after the tsunami here barrelled two miles inland, destroying almost everything in its path. this 20-foot tsunami wall was supposed to have provided some sort of protection, but the force of the raging water was so strong it broke straight through, tossing it aside like a bunch of toy blocks. for a week, this isolated town had been almost without aid for the thousands of survivors at crowded evacuation centers. the first significant help
arrived only in the last couple of days. many are still sleeping in the cars in which they fled the tsunami, trying to maintain the dignity of home. it's okay, this woman said, but it gets so cold when it snows. otsuchi has a sister city in california, and officials told us they had been moved by text messages of help and good will. >> between us, there is a pacific ocean, and there is hopes and dreams. >> stuff was coming in. stuff was coming in but it wasn't enough. >> reporter: jonathan, an american teacher living in japan, was among the first to organize help for the survivors. >> i was getting worried. and i wanted to help as much as i can. >> reporter: these remote fishing towns are now an urgent priority for the relief effort. ian williams, nbc news, otsuchi. as you may have heard, the quake actually moved japan slightly to the east and lowered the level of the land in many places. and when we talk about the japan quake being felt around the
world, here's what we mean. it took 34 minutes for the shaking in japan to reach florida. we know that because groundwater measurement gauges in south florida all registered what they're calling an unusual oscillation, meaning the needles jumped all over the place and continued to for over two hours. the water management folks in south florida said those same instruments also picked up the nearby haiti quake right after it happened last january. when we come back here tonight, the calendar says spring, but apparently nobody informed mother nature.
the second day of spring arrived with dramatic special effects in washington, d.c., this morning. a wild electrical storm produced spectacular cloud-to-ground lightning today, all of it captured by time lapse photography, but we couldn't speed up the thunder the same way. as d.c. watched the show overhead, new jersey, new york and connecticut were all dealing with snowfall. up to 3 inches in some places, but it's expected to disappear quickly. different story at mammoth mountain out in california, which got more than 4 feet of snow today. they have gotten a record-setting 44 feet of snow this year. spring skiers' paradise. a massive deal in the wireless world to tell you about tonight.
at&t says it's buying competitor t-mobile for $39 billion. the combined companies would be the largest wireless carrier in the u.s. the merger would lead to an estimated $40 billion in cost cuts and thousands of layoffs. although both companies have agreed to the deal, the feds will have a big say in this. it would leave only three big national carriers, and as "the new york times" put it this morning, sprint, already third, would fall further behind. the rules about kids and car seats that generations of kids have been raised on are changing. the american academy of pediatrics says new studies have shown babies should sit in rear-facing car seats until th're 2 years old instead of turning them around to face front at year one. and older kids need to sit on those booster seats longer, until they're between 8 and 12 years old and at least 4'9" tall.
finally tonight, we return to japan and two stories that illustrate both the hope and the loss in the face of disaster. we learned today about the first american known to have perished in the tsunami that followed the quake. she was just 24, a teacher from virginia. nbc's lee cowan has her story as well as another story from the same devastated region that's giving new hope in these desperate hours. >> reporter: before march 11th, most americans had never heard of miyagi, that district in japan now so synonymous with pain and loss. but taylor anderson knew it in better days. the girl from richmond, virginia, had made it her home. >> she loved it. she loved the culture. she loved the people. she loved teaching japanese children. she was living her dream. >> reporter: but taylor taught more than english. she taught compassion in full measure. when the earthquake struck, she helped get children out. but the time she needed to save herself was gone. it took rescuers days to reach
that area, to begin picking through the grim jigsaw puzzle of debris. it seemed hopeless. and yet nine days in, a 16-year-old boy was found clinging to a roof, exhausted and cold, but alive. he had saved his 80-year-old grandmother too after finding the refrigerator stocked with yogurt and coke. [ speaking foreign language ] we always knew there was something special about him, said his father. special indeed. and for a time, it seemed that taylor was part of that special group. in fact her parents got a call that she too had been found. it was a mistake. taylor was still lost in all of that rubble, until this morning. in a short statement, her parents wished what her daughter would have wished. please continue to pray for all who remain missing, they said, and for the people of japan.
she may be the first american known to have died, but taylor will be honored as one of japan's own, another tear in its ocean of grief. lee cowan, nbc news, seoul. >> that's our broadcast for tonight. thank you for being with us. i'm brian williams. we hope to see you right back here tomorrow evening. good night. -- captions by vitac -- www.vitac.com right now at 6:00, san francisco's most controversial slugger gets ready to take some hits in the courtroom. plus, rain, hail, snow, and now rock slides. a serious of storms ravaging the west coast. and this is only the beginning. we've got team coverage of the storms headed our way. and thank you for joining us this evening.uirreaguirre. >> and i'm raj